All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone. ~ Pascal
In last week’s Hump Day Homily I talked about the hack that is my own spiritual journey, the convergence of Christianity and Buddhism. My formative years were exclusively Christian, and I continue to benefit exponentially from the teachings and stories and mythology within the Christian Bible, particularly the life and teachings of Jesus. (Perhaps more than any other biblical figure, Jesus has needed to be extremely sanitized for use in churches and public sermons.)
When I hit my mid-twenties, though, I realized that my ego had been running me up into some walls, and I’d been crashing pretty hard. It seems like this is kind of a thing that happens to many homo sapiens when we are at a certain age, in our mid-twenties to early-thirties. (I’ve heard it referred to, astrologically, as “the return of Saturn.”) We realize that the way we perceive the world is narrow and limited, and we begin to suspect that it’s our own fault, that these limitations largely exist to protect our ego.
It may be a simple example, but one of the things that I noticed back then was that I had unhealthy anti-social habits. I still consider myself a hermit but back in those days it was definitely a defense mechanism. Same behavior, really, than as now, but back then seclusion was almost totally an unhealthy defense mechanism.
And really, that one wasn’t so bad. I just got out more. I got more involved with my church, expanded myself socially. Still, I became more self-reflective, and the more reflective I became, the more I noticed that there were some pretty deeply rooted issues, not so easily addressed as my anti-social tendencies. In fact, my issues came out all the more as I became more social, and particularly as I tried to build real relationships with people. In short, I noticed the usual suspects emerging from the shadows of the inner ego: anger, pride, anxiety, compulsive behaviors, and a lack of flexibility in my own personality.
But this stuff was deep. It was too deep, really, and I came to a point of quasi-desperation, because I realized that I simply didn’t have the spiritual tools to deal with it.
Christianity seems to emphasize either ritual or spiritual experience (sometimes both). In my evangelical Christian subculture we sort of shunned ritual in favor of spiritual experiences. Being “saved” or “born again” was a big one, the experience of worship in church was another, and then there was the ongoing experience of “a relationship with God.” By way of spiritual disciplines there was a sort of vague emphasis on a daily “quiet time” (or “spending time with God”), which primarily centered on reading the Bible and praying, but by the time I was in my late twenties, I was nearly done with seminary, and I knew the Bible better than most, and I don’t mean to brag, but, like, I had spent nearly twenties years obsessed with the Bible. But it wasn’t working. None of it really was. It wasn’t like it was bad or counter-productive, necessarily. It just wasn’t getting deep.
I felt I needed a different approach, a new tool, something to root the vices out from deep within. When I discovered meditation, I realized it was addressing the problem on the mental level, a sort of reboot of the mind. This was as much biological (neurological) as it was spiritual. This was something that had been almost completely absent in my evangelical circles (despite the fact that the idea of using solitude and contemplation as a way to change the mind actually is a pretty important them in the Christian Scriptures, via the example of Jesus’ own extended time in solitude and also a teaching found in the writings of the Apostle Paul, most directly in Romans: “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”).
Unless you become a monk and, like, meditate all hours of the fucking day (and some nights), the results of meditation are pretty slow. It’s a glacier effect, slowly chipping away at the rough edges, day after day, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. Even so, for me it’s been an important tool to dig deeper.